In our previous post, we discussed some ideas for reform being pushed by Sue Bell Cobb, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. I have a few ideas of my own, but before we get into those, I have a question about Ms. Cobb, a Democrat:
What magic dust does she possess that allowed her to beat Republican Drayton Nabers (a Bob Riley appointee) for the chief justice position in 2006? It's been apparent for a number of years that a hefty number of Alabamians (many of them, I suspect, white and middle to upper class) automatically vote Republican in court races. This trend started in the mid 1990s, with the help of Karl Rove and Bill Canary, and Democrats have been getting killed in judicial races ever since.
And it's a crying shame, because I think Democrats had a number of excellent candidates for appellate-court races in 2006, including Ray Vaughan, of Montgomery, and Jim McFerrin, of Homewood. Anyway, Democrats need to borrow some of Ms. Cobb's magic dust and sprinkle it around, so she can grow some sizable coat tails.
Now, back to my ideas for improving Alabama courts. Ms. Cobb has called for merit appointments for judicial vacancies, nonpartisan races for sitting appeals-court judges, and a ban on PAC money, with no contributions of more than $250. Ms. Cobb's ideas are a good start, but they don't go nearly far enough.
Here is the Legal Schnauzer platform for radical court reform:
* We should have nonpartisan races for all judges, not just appeals-court judges.
* Better still, judges should be appointed, using some type of bipartisan system; they work well in several states. Politics and elections should be taken out of the process all together. Here is a Web site with information about judicial selection processes in the states. Some of them have to be better than what we have in Alabama.
* There should be some level of verified competence that a lawyer has to meet in order to run for judge. Here's a huge myth: Judges are among the most competent and qualified lawyers available. That's not even remotely true. Just look at Shelby County. Judge G. Dan Reeves used to be the court clerk, for crying out loud. I don't know if the man has ever tried a case in his life. (Even if Reeves were honest, which he isn't, he'd be a sorry judge.) Babec, the lowland gorilla at the Birmingham Zoo, probably has stronger judicial credentials than Reeves. Check out this picture of Babec and tell me if you would want to be an evildoer who had to face this manly dude in court. Heck, Birmingham's crime rate would plummet with Babec on the bench. Under our current system, the judges themselves are criminals. Which brings me to my favorite Shelby County judge, J. Michael Joiner. How did this slimeball gain his lofty status? I've been told that Joiner was a mediocrity, at best, as a lawyer. But it seems that half of south Shelby County is related to him. Heck, there's even an area called Joinertown. No wonder he cheats people with impunity; he knows he'll be judge for life, no matter what he does. And from what I can tell, judges in Shelby County have an incredibly narrow world view. Joiner, for example, grew up in Shelby County, went to a private high school and private college (both local), and to my knowledge, has never accomplished a thing outside his own little cocoon. (For good measure, he and his wife, Cathy, send their daughter, Christy, to a private high school, Briarwood Christian, which just so happens to have strong connection to events that led to me being sued. Wonder if that had something to do with Joiner's criminal handling of the lawsuit filed against me? What kind of ethics do they teach at Briarwood Christian or at Joiner's church--The Church at Brook Hills.) Don't know much about Reeves' background, but I'd be shocked if he has any significant life experience outside Shelby County. For these guys, being a judge isn't about justice; it's about lording over the narrow little world they've known all their lives.
* Ms. Cobb should appoint a bipartisan commission, including major regular-citizen involvement, to scrutinize Alabama trial courts. Our trial courts are a cesspool, and too many judges knowingly make unlawful rulings without any fear of reprisal. There's really no need to even address problems with appellate courts until our trial courts are cleaned up.
* All judges, at both the trial and appellate levels, should be required to explain their rulings so that litigants have some idea why a judge ruled the way he did. Currently, at the trial level, a judge can deny or grant any motion--even an extremely important document such as a motion for summary judgment--and not offer any explanation. Doesn't have to cite law or fact or anything to justify the ruling. Zip. Appellate courts can do pretty much the same thing. They can issue a "no-opinion affirmance," which means they uphold the trial-court finding and offer no explanation. Throughout my ordeal in the Alabama court system, I've not had one judge explain a ruling, citing relevant law. They haven't done it because no law exists to support their rulings. Ray Vaughan made changing the "no-opinion affirmance" rule a central part of his campaign for a spot on the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals. Unfortunately, the issue gained no traction with the media or the public, and Mr. Vaughan lost.
Well, looks like we're getting on a roll here. Feels good to get some stuff off my chest, but I'm almost into rant mode. (Feeling a bit like Dr. Cox on Scrubs, but not nearly that funny.)
Let's take a break from this topic. But we will return with more Legal Schnauzer ideas for court reform in a bit.